Friday, April 18, 2008
Smoke on the Water.... and in the Sky Over Buenos Aires
We can't go outside tonight. The smoke is just too much. My wife's throat is irritated and I'm getting a headache from the fumes. It is 2:00am, and I have had to shut off all the air conditioners in the apartment because they are sucking in the fowl smell of burnt grass.
You may have noticed the news reports. Over 70,000 hectares of grasslands in the river delta region 300 km north of Buenos Aires have been burning. The fires are sending smoke all the way down to Buenos Aires and even over to Montevideo in Uruguay.
The blog, Still Life in Buenos Aires, has a good NASA photo of the area affected.
It seems that in the winter, farmers in the delta marshland use an age old slash-and-burn technique to clear dry grass and improve the land for grazing cattle. Normally, it is not a big deal. But this year, someone started a little early and the fire got out of hand because of the climatic conditions.
After a week or more of the smoke, 70,000 toasted hectares and several deaths on the highways due to the thick smoke, the government has finally labeled it a crisis. But rather than make much progress in fighting the real fire, they seem more interested in playing with political fire.
The government has used this crisis to their advantage in the farm strike negotiations, labeling the fires the result of greedy farmers that burned the land "to reduce costs and maximize profits, regardless of the consequences."
And of course this great quote circulating all the wire services:
“This is the largest fire of this kind we’ve ever seen,” said the interior minister, Florencio Randazzo. “It was started by farmers clearing land for cattle grazing, driven by greed for profit and with total disregard for human life.”
Because the area is a protected wetland, the use of chemicals and pesticides is banned. The marshland consists of 100s of islands with no roads and the only way in or out is by boat. Using heavy equipment is cost prohibitive, so the farmers have used the slash and burn technique for many years.
The only problem, there were never any safeguards put in place to prevent the tragedy we have now. But the government claiming that heads are going to roll and this is all the result of greedy farmers acting irresponsibly, sounds a bit like the Prefect of Police in the movie Casablanca claiming, "I'm shocked that gambling is going on here!" when he had been well aware of it all along.
Leave it to this government to use a crisis to drive a wedge and divide its people more.
I just don't understand this type of politics.